With a build volume limited to only 100 cars, and many of those destined for foreign parts, there’s a good chance you haven’t seen a Morgan AeroMax coupe on the road just yet.
SuperSports looks lower, wider than 'Max
In which case, you probably haven't heard one, either. A pity, because I can vouch that BMW's usually refined V8 emits a wonderful cacophony of rumbling thunder when allowed to express itself properly. In fact, the sound erupting from the side-pipes of my first ‘live’ AeroMax made a riveting piece of musical theatre as the car was fired-up, given a blip of throttle, then left to idle menacingly outside the final assembly shop on the day PH visited Morgan’s Malvern works last week.
The sight and sound of an AeroMax is an intoxicating pleasure, blending the glamour and style of some undefined ‘golden age’ of motoring with an invigorating dash of Great British hot rod. The whole shebang is shaken, (or perhaps stirred), into an exotic motorised cocktail that exudes movie-star glamour from every surface. It’s definitely more Indiana Jones than 007, as beneath the heart-throb looks and top-drawer technical credentials lurks a testosterone-fuelled throwback to the days when an Englishman’s metal could be measured by the length of his engine cowling. Show an AeroMax to a member of the fairer sex, and if they don’t swoon over its muscular frame I’ll wager they're piloted remotely by canine intelligence.
An AeroMax coupe fresh off the line
What that says about the potential pulling-power of the new Aero SuperSports doesn't bear thinking about, although guests at the exclusive and glamorous Villa d’Este concours event in Italy will get an early feel for the new car’s potency when the stunning new prototype (pictured for the first time here on PH) is unveiled there today.
The new model is based closely on the existing AeroMax, sharing its high-tech bonded aluminium chassis, BMW V8 powertrain and much of its Superform aluminium body. It’s a little-known fact that Morgan was a trail-blazer for Superform technology in the automotive sector (a process whereby incredibly complex panels are formed against moulds using air pressure and 500 C degrees of applied heat), introducing it first to replace costly and time-consuming hand-beaten wings across the range in the 1990s. More Superform panels were introduced on the Aero 8, while the AeroMax was itself the first car in the world to feature a body made entirely from Superform parts. Now similar technology is used by coachbuilders across the world, from Aston to Zagato.
Matthew Humphries, chief designer
Today’s SuperSports show car is actually hand-crafted from an AeroMax body, but the roadster will be productionised using Superform where possible. As with the AeroMax, the method has allowed the SuperSports' designer Matthew Humphries to conceive a finished body with complex panel curves that would be completely unfeasible for production using traditional methods. (Although craftsmen do still make panels the old way for Morgan’s more traditional models.)
Humphries was responsible for both the original AeroMax and the new SuperSports, the former concept designed while he was still a student. Now employed as the company’s chief designer, PH found him hard at work on our visit to Malvern, scant days before the show car was due to be trucked to Italy. With sleeves rolled up helping to fit out the interior of the prototype that sprang from his drawing board, he clearly feels privileged to be part of such a small and vibrant team.
Superformed aluminium in all its splendour
‘Where else could I get a job that is so hands on? I can draw up a design for something, go into the panel shop or wood shop and say how can you help me out with this? One of our craftsmen will make something up, and we can see straight away how it works on the car. It’s amazing what the guys can do,’ he told us.
The style of the new Aero SuperSports is clearly related to the coupe, and in fact differs only from the windscreen back.
‘The AeroMax has a relatively high volume cabin which you can see in a roof shape which is quite domed, so we’ve flattened that out and pulled some of the lines in tighter around the rear shoulders,’ says Humphries. ‘We definitely wanted this new car to look lower and faster.’
An AeroMax rolling chassis engine test
The new SuperSports' glazed B-pillars blend into upswept flying buttresses that support a fixed rear roof panel and a near-vertical glazed rear window, while the buttresses themselves taper gracefully to a point at the rear of the car. The removable aluminium roof section lifts out in two parts, which are designed to fit neatly under a boot lid recessed between the tapered buttresses.
Even when PH was invited to see the SuperSports in its unfinished state, the car looked stunning in its special black lacquer - an Xirallic finish that contains microscopic glass beads instead of metalflakes, and lights up with flashes of electric blue in the sunshine - and a beautifully rich, tanned saddle-leather interior.
Rendering shows structural ash frame
‘The interior was partly inspired by vintage hot rods, so we wanted the distressed look of worn saddle leather,’ says Humphries. ‘When it’s brand new, I’m sure owners will feel like killing themselves at the first scratch, but then they'll stop caring and it will start to get properly worn-in and look really amazing.’
Another feature picked up from the AeroMax is the ash wood structural framing, visible as it runs around the inside of the lavishly trimmed cockpit. For an extra bit of ‘pizzazz’, the show car also features a parcel shelf stocked with champagne flutes and a bottle of Morgan’s centenary champagne.
The Aero SuperSports is slated to enter production next year when Morgan completes its run of 100 AeroMax coupes, a self-imposed limit set back in 2006 when the car was first launched.
SuperSports concept as a wireframe
‘We rather shot ourselves in the foot,’ marketing director Matthew Parkin told us ruefully last week. ‘We could easily have sold twice that many, so instead we’ve come up with a successor that’s sufficiently different to fulfil our promise of exclusivity for the AeroMax, while appealing to the same type of buyer.’
The differences are pretty much all visual, as the chassis and running gear is carried over. That means SuperSports buyers will get Morgan’s bespoke bonded aluminium chassis, first introduced on the Aero 8, and now loaded with BMW’s latest 4.8-litre V8 making 367hp.
Chassis is bonded at the Alcan factory
The chassis comes from the UK Alcan plant set up at Ford’s instigation to service Jaguar’s need for aluminium XJ parts, but Morgan got their order in well before the aluminium XJs reached production. ‘It was quite amusing,’ recalls Parkin. ‘For a little while there was a great big factory, completely empty apart from a few Morgan chassis.’ The relationship continues, and the Aero range continues to impress reviewers with perfect 50:50 weight distribution (with passengers aboard), and low all-up weight of just 1180kgs.
The company says those numbers will remain much the same for the SuperSports, so performance should match the AeroMax which knocks-off the 0-60mph dash in 4.2secs and tops 170mph. That’s with an automatic gearbox, too, and Morgan says most AeroMax buyers opt for the BMW six-speed auto which actually offers better acceleration than the manual equivalent.
Phwooar, look at the pixels on that!
Morgan invited PH to Malvern after being warmed by the response in our forums to a recent news article that trailed the SuperSports’ arrival. Of course we jumped at the chance, and as well as gaining a sneaky preview of the new model, we garnered some fascinating insights into a family-owned company that has successfully managed to reinvent its product line, while remaining quintessentially unchanged in character.
Morgan remains a small affair, building around 600 cars a year in a series of brick built sheds dotted around the works, and that overall volume isn’t expected to rise when the SuperSports comes on stream next year. Morgan hopes to build at least 200 examples of the new SuperSports, but that will just mean a longer wait for customers who anyway seem to find that a period of anticipation heightens the pleasure of acquisition. ‘It’s just not like an ordinary car in that respect,’ says Matthew, ‘because when people buy a Morgan they already know they’re going to keep it forever. It becomes one of the family’
Speedster version anyone?
The rule seems to apply to all Morgan customers, whether they’re leather-hatted traditionalists buying old-school cars or the new breed of customer attracted to the contemporary glamour and thoroughly modern performance of the Aero models. ‘We sell cars to a wide range of people, including some getting out of lifestyle motorcycles like Harleys, and others who might have become bored by a succession of Porsches,' reckons Parkin. 'The unifying factor is they all want something different, and totally unique.'
If you want to sample a bit of the Morgan magic for yourself, there's a brand new visitor centre at the factory, and the company seems to extend a refreshingly informal welcome to its legions of visitors although you do need to book first. (Details can be found on the Morgan website.) Malvern may be a bit off the beaten track but the factory is easy to find - just listen for the rumble of distant thunder.
Gallery - SuperSports design renderings and Morgan works
With roof panels removed
Roof panels in situ
AeroMax chassis awaits body
Complex Superformed curves
We like this idea - a lot!
Humphries prepares the fizz